Researching impact: Religious collections

With grant funding the Lilly Library is conducting a series of investigations into how contemporary institutions are impacting public understanding of diverse religious traditions.

The study of religion and the study of the history of the book are deeply intertwined. For as long as people have found ways to record ideas for future generations—from papyrus to parchment to the printing press—the propagation of sacred texts, challenges to orthodox views, and lively debates about the nature of existence have been central to the written and printed record of human thought.

Although few of the Lilly Library’s collections are directly centered on religion, religious thought and practice from around the world are threaded through many of the library’s rare books and manuscripts and can be fruitfully studied from a multitude of disciplinary perspectives. Published books and articles based on the Library’s religious holdings span scores of religious subjects including the Muggletonian movement in seventeenth-century England, the development of Mormonism in nineteenth-century America, and Islamic manuscripts and book arts.

The Lilly Library recognizes a powerful opportunity to learn from its cultural counterparts. What techniques, staff structures, and activities (digital and physical) are most successful in these public-focused organizations? How can they be translated to a public university?


A miniature Qur'an is delicately placed in it's green velvet case and spotlighted from above.
Miniature Qur'an and green velvet case. Possibly Iran or Ottoman Turkey, 19th century.

This tiny manuscript Qur’an (only 3.3 cm wide) is part of the Ruth Adomeit collection of miniature books and an excellent example of important religious material that can be found in collections devoted to other topics. Miniature Qur’ans (sometimes called sancak or banner Qur’ans) are an Ottoman Turkish tradition in which small versions of this sacred text were designed to be affixed to military standards or carried close to the body, in a sleeve or pocket, as a constant reminder of the intimacy between self and God through the medium of the handwritten text.

A once-in-a-generation renovation and new museum exhibition specialist are indications of a fresh commitment to the value of special collections at Indiana University. With grant funding, the Lilly Library is leading a research project to document specific ways modern outreach programs and people impact public understanding of diverse religious traditions.

A commitment to diversity and inclusion

Nuanced scholarly and creative explorations of religious expression and religious thought are part of a larger commitment to diversity and inclusion at the Lilly Library. We recognize that special collections libraries have traditionally been places of privilege, full of collections built by those in power and accessible only by the few.

At the Lilly Library, we are committed to sharing and centering materials from the collections that highlight voices and stories that have often been suppressed or obscured in the historical record. Our teaching and outreach address the silences and shortcomings of our library and the challenges and complexities of building and stewarding diverse and distinctive collections. Collecting, preserving, and making available materials from the world’s rich and varied religious traditions are just one part of this larger mission. We believe that rare books and manuscripts are for everyone.

Spring 2022 Grant Project Assistants

Priority given to applications received by Monday, February 7, 2022.  As of Feb. 17, 2022, applications are closed.


The Lilly Library is seeking three Indiana University graduate students to serve as Grant Project Assistants for Spring 2022. For this special grant-funded project, selected assistants will perform literature reviews, conduct interviews, gather data, document information, and write up results in collaboration with multiple team members including Lilly Library librarians.

Workload will be approximately 20 hours per week for four months, from February 14 to June 13, 2022. The position will work with Lilly librarians, researchers, and as a member of a team of three graduate students. Much of the work may be conducted virtually, some in-person work can be expected.

Project work description

As part of a planning grant, IU Libraries is seeking three graduate assistants to work collaboratively to produce three white papers which will be published via open access in IU ScholarWorks and used to prepare for a large-scale grant proposal. A panel presentation will occur to share the findings of the research completed.  The three following topics will structure the papers and presentation:

  • Outreach and Engagement Activities: Investigate the current status of outreach and engagement activities in rare books and special collections libraries, specifically those specializing in religious texts and artifacts.
  • Sustainable Digital Exhibitions: Conduct research on devising a sustainable program of digital exhibitions.
  • Contemporary Curatorial Roles for Religious Topics: Research and provide an overview of contemporary curatorial roles and responsibilities with an emphasis on those focused on religious collections.


Each graduate student selected will receive $13,500.


Outstanding interpersonal and communication skills including concise, clear, and pleasant verbal and written messaging. Ability to work independently as required. Writing experience, including professional and academic. Ability to follow through and complete work assignments. Excellent organizational skills appropriate for report writing and conducting interviews. Ability to adhere to direction and consistently verify workflow and task requirements. Preferred: Library work experience. Experience working with manuscripts, special collections, and rare books is highly desirable

How to apply

Email statement of interest, resume, and a writing sample (or link to a sample) to Library Administration at libadmin @ Applications sent to any other email address than will not be considered.